The state Legislatures two top Republicans on Thursday blasted the GOP-controlled State Budget and Control Board for raising health insurance costs for state workers.
The president of the state Senate demanded the board reverse itself, and the speaker of the S.C. House predicted the move will lead to a costly class-action lawsuit that the state will lose.
In July, state lawmakers voted overwhelmingly not to raise the out-of-pocket costs that state workers pay for their health insurance. But the Budget and Control Board raised those costs anyway Wednesday, at the request of first-term Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.
State Sen. John Courson of Richland County, the president pro tempore of the Senate, said Thursday the Budget and Control Board acted illegally, citing the opinion of the Senates attorneys.
In a news release with two Democrats, Courson called on the board to convene immediately and reverse its decision. I would think, frankly, that very prominent trial lawyers are frothing at the mouth now thinking about this.
In fact, Dick Harpootlian a prominent trial lawyer and chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party said Wednesday that he plans to file a lawsuit as early as next week.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the state would lose that class-action lawsuit, costing the state even more money.
Haley said Wednesday that she was making a statement for the taxpayers.
Ask anybody in the private sector if they get the benefits that state employees get because they dont, Haley said Wednesday. And ask anyone in the private sector if they have the extra money to pay for state employees to have benefits. They dont.
It is a clear violation
Haleys move to raise state workers health insurance costs did more than just anger some workers and lawmakers. It also it upended a legislative deal that helped produce the states $6.7 billion budget.
Lawmakers decision not to raise the amount that state workers pay for their health insurance was part of an elaborate compromise between Republicans and Democrats to pass the budget.
Democrats wanted to give a 4 percent pay raise to state workers, who had not received across-the-board raises since 2007. Republican budget writers countered with a 3 percent raise.
Democrats agreed, but only if Republicans would agree the state would pay the increase in state employees health insurance costs.
That compromise was a big part of securing his vote for the budget, said state Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, who joined Courson and state Sen. Joel Lourie in calling for the budget board to reverse itself.
It is a clear violation of the will of the General Assembly, Jackson said. I cant tell you how disappointed I am.
Be glad ... they have insurance
But while angering some, Haleys decision aided by the votes of fellow Republicans Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom and Treasurer Curtis Loftis won her some major points with her political base: Tea Party conservatives.
The state budget, which Haley signed, included $91 million in raises for state workers, including teachers and law enforcement officers. But the budget boards decision to require state workers to pay half the increase in the cost of their insurance gives back $5.8 million of those raises.
This sends the philosophical message that taxpayers should not be on the hook for 100 percent of these costs, said Don Weaver, president of the S.C. Association of Taxpayers, a conservative advocacy group.
State employees need to be glad they still have health insurance.
Courson, Jackson and Lourie disagree.
The three all represent heavily Democratic Richland County, which as home to the state capital has a high percentage of state workers. Courson, a Republican, also must face Democratic challenger Robert Rikard in the November election.
But Courson said his opposition to the boards decision is legal, not political. He said the Budget and Control Board acted illegally.
The governor and the Budget and Control Board cannot legislate, any more than the courts can, Courson said. The idea that three votes on an administrative body could overturn the will of the General Assembly is alien to our system of representative government. The rule of law must be upheld.
Haley, and the attorney for the Budget and Control Board, disagree.
As we have said time and again, just because the money is there doesnt mean South Carolina should spend it, said Rob Godfrey, Haleys spokesman. We will always fight for state employees, but we believe theyll understand that its not right for the taxpayers to pick up the increased cost of their health insurance."
Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.